2013 Katharine V. Byers BSW Award

Contest Winner: Nikki York
Faculty Advisor: Janice Laakso, University of Washington, Tacoma

Our group decided to work towards investing in Early Childhood Education in the state of Washington. Focusing on this issue, we began looking at what was happening at the federal and state level that impacted children involved in early childhood education programs. Due to federal budget cuts, local child advocacy groups were asking the state government to invest in and expand our Early Childhood Education and Assistance Program (ECEAP) by 1,500 slots. When a bill was introduced into legislation we also wanted to advocate for its passage.

This bill proposed our state increase the number of slots in its ECEAP program to match the available slots in the federal Head Start program. This change would increase available slots by 1,443 based on 2012 figures from our state’s Department of Early Learning. In addition, this bill provides funding for the ECEAP program by using the tax money from the legalization of marijuana. According to the Children’s Defense Fund, our state currently receives funding for 2,700 children in Early Head Start programs but enrolls upwards of 3,767 annually. Unfortunately, at the current enrollment it is estimated that only 46% of eligible children are currently enrolled in early learning programs. An increase in ECEAP slots would increase enrollment to children in need throughout the state.

Our goal was to get the community involved via our work, school, and social networks. We created a fact sheet with data about who Early Childhood Education programs assisted, including information dispelling common myths about participants. The process began with a lobby day, lead by the Children’s Alliance organization, where we went to the capitol and met with our state senators and representatives to discuss the relevancy of Early Childhood Education. On campus our members advocated via an activity known as a Take 5 table. During this engaging activity, we asked students and faculty to sign our online petition, join our Facebook page, and call their legislators to support the pending state issue. One member, who works at an ECEAP site also facilitated a parent education night at her childcare center, Multicultural Child and Family Hope Center, in order to provide parents with information regarding current legislation. In between the above stated activities, we contacted our representatives via email in order to provide them with information we had on why this bill needed their support.

Our bill recently passed through the state Senate on April 27th, 2013 and has since been delivered to our governor to be signed into law. Unfortunately, Early Childhood Education is still in need of assistance nationwide. Due to sequestration, funding to these programs is at risk and children are now at risk of losing services. It is important to keep this issue in the news as our children are the key to our future and are pivotal to our success as a nation. Several studies have shown that early, intensive, and long-term educational interventions can be effective if students are given the necessary support and tools to succeed. As a nation, it is our responsibility to provide our children with the programs that can make their success a reality.

As there were several of us working on the project, we all had our own unique take-away from our experiences. Together, we wanted to be a unified voice for members of our community (children) that were unable to advocate for themselves. Our group found that working together to promote this legislation was a positive way to do this while connecting with our local government. It also allowed us to expand our knowledge of how to advocate including gaining the confidence and knowledge to approach our legislators and strangers to promote our issue. We also learned that voicing our opinions and getting involved with our community is an important facet to the Social Work profession.